The Three Best Tools For Diagnosing Immobiliser Faults And Programming Car Keys

Have you considered adding ‘key programming’ to the list of services offered at your auto repair garage? Do you frequently turn away those tricky immobiliser related faults?

Programming new keys and diagnosing immobilizer issues is an advanced service that could add a new stream of income to your auto mechanic business, but there are high startup costs and a requirement of advanced knowledge for this to be a real success. If you are ready to learn and have some cash to invest then this article is for you.

Your garage will most likely already own and utilize standard auto diagnostic tools such as those Snap-on and Launch tools, and whilst these tools are great for diagnosing and clearing faults they are not capable of preparing and coding all types of car keys. To perform security-related tasks such as key programming you will need a selection of very expensive main dealer tools, or an aftermarket key programming solution.

Some advanced and more specialist garages may already be equipped with certain dealer tools, such as a VCM2 for Ford diagnosis or VAS interface for VAG vehicles. However, without the correct security level access permissions these tools can not be used for programming keys.

With so many aftermarket key programming tools available how do you know which to choose? It’s important to understand that there is no ‘one tool does it all’ solution. Most serious auto locksmiths will carry several tools in their van, worth over a combined £50,000. This figure may seem shockingly high but with the ever-increasing cost of replacement car keys from the main dealers, auto locksmith businesses are doing better than ever.

The best option for auto repair garages would be to either specialize their key programming in one particular manufacturer or production region, i.e Europe, or invest in a few tools to cover a wider range.

Here are our recommendations of the top three tools to offer key programming at your workshop:

1. Smart Pro by Advanced Diagnostics

Advanced Diagnostics have been leading the way in key programming for the last 15 years and have continually developed and improved their tools and software. The latest offering from Advanced Diagnostics is the Smart Pro. This sophisticated tablet was launched at the end of 2018 and combines all the capabilities of its predecessors with the added benefit of a color touch screen.

The Smart Pro is a must-have tool for any serious key programmer and would be well suited for repair garages looking to take their diagnostics to the next level. The simple to use interface is packed with tips and images to guide the operator through each step. AD has bundled in useful information such as what transponder type to use, the location of the OBD socket, and manual methods for synchronization of remotes.

Prior to the launch of the Smart Pro, you could choose either the AD100 Pro, with pre-purchased software or MVP Po, which was loaded with all software modules and required pre-purchased tokens. The new Smart Pro has done away with the need for two machines and combined them in one. This gives the owner some flexibility and the option of buying frequently used modules, whilst calling on a bank of pre-purchased tokens for more obscure jobs.

2. AVDI by Abrites

The AVDI interface from Abrites connects to a laptop and requires software to be installed and regularly updated. This tool is not as comprehensive as the AD Smart but it is much more sophisticated and offers a higher level of diagnostics.

Whilst the AVDI is very costly, with full license purchases you will be able to perform much more than key programming. With the master package, you will also be able to install and learn body modules and ECU’s, but at just under £25,000 you will need to be sure of securing enough work to justify the cost.

The AVDI is the leading aftermarket solution for programming VAG and Mercedes keys and even out-performs the dealer tools in some aspects. For instance, VW dealers can only program a precoded key which they order from their factory in Germany. The AVDI is able to extract the 7 bytes of component security from the vehicle and precode a virgin key.

This level of diagnostic sophistication will allow garages to save time on ordering dealer keys, but a high level of knowledge and advanced training is required to complete such tasks. It’s worth bearing in mind that if keys are not ordered from the dealer against the VIN then the key will be blank and need to be cut first.

3. The X300 Pad by OBD Star

OBD Star is a Chinese company producing several diagnostic tools and have recently made a big impact in the area of key programming.

The X300 Pad is similar in design to the AD Smart Pro and also has a wide range of coverage. The main attraction of the X300 is its low cost of £1400. The software is not as intuitive as the Smart Pro and sometimes requires a fair bit of guesswork to find the correct system. For example, it’s not uncommon for the tester to fail communication under its European software on some cars, but succeed under the Asian menu. Once you have worked out how finds the correct system this tool will cover more vehicles than it’s AVDI competitor, although it is not capable of performing some of the more advanced key programming jobs.

In addition to key programming this tool also offers a high level of diagnostics and fault reading, so for the price could well be a great first start for a car repair garage looking to offer key programming.


Either three of these tools will allow your garage to start offering key programming services and will be ideal for getting you started in this market. When considering which tool to buy you will need to consider how much time and money you are prepared to invest and what level of key diagnostics you wish to offer.

For entry-level programming, the X300 Pad won’t get you off to a bad start and is by far the cheapest option. To make the best use of this tool, you would need to order a cut key from a dealer and program to the car once it arrives. Bear in mind this process will work out a lot slower and most likely more expensive for the customer compared to the solution a top auto locksmith company could provide.

About the author

Hey there, I’m Mark Migliaccio owner of The Auto Locksmith. I have over 10 years of industry experience as an auto locksmith specializing in car keys and vehicle diagnostics. When I’m not programming car keys you will find me offering honest expert car key advice over at The Auto Locksmith Help & Advice Hub